Questions and Irony

What’s your spirit animal? Perhaps you think it’s one with ferocity associated with it, like a lion, or maybe one attributed to wisdom, like an owl. Or, maybe you’re more like Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss.

Their work continually features two animals, thought to be their alter egos: a rat and a panda (though it’s never revealed whose alter ego is whose); these two seemingly different animals are both often associated with laziness in their own ways, and they represent how, as kids, Fischli and Weiss had both always wanted to make money without having to work for it. The two became a duo after having met through a mutual friend and joining a rock band together. After the band broke up, the two began collaborating artistically and began to create works of genius.

On view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Fischli and Weiss’s ironically titled “How to Work Better” is often said to parallel the silly works of the French Dada artist, Marcel Duchamp, with Fischli and Weiss’s exhibition focused on using humor to present more serious themes.

The first piece, “Rat and Bear, Sleeping” sets this amusing atmosphere for the rest of the exhibition. As the title explains, the work is of a raggedy wool rat and bear asleep. However, if you examine it closely, you can see the two steadily breathing (in an almost creepy way) with the use of electric motors.

Rat and Bear came to life when Fischli and Weiss happened to stumble upon costumes in a costume shop that only allowed rentals to filmmakers. Together, they created short films that seem to tell a random tale in the nonsensical lives of Rat and Bear. Their work is reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s work, thanks to the meticulously arranged sets and clever dialogue.

The nonsensical aspects of all the works add to the illusions and humor Fischli and Weiss seek to create. A walk through a Zurich supermarket with the two looking for potential art supplies inspired “The Sausage Series.” It is composed of a series of photographs that show food items and other everyday objects representing common scenes anyone would be able to understand.

“Grey Sculptures” is a series of mini rudimentary sculptures that depict random things with similarly random titles like, “Hooray, the School is Burning.” There are also hilariously random objects like “Lettuce,” and interpretations of polar opposites such as that of “Construction and Deconstruction.” These pieces are dispersed in a maze-like fashion on one floor, perhaps to make a point of how we are constantly surrounded by such ideas and to clearly depict Fischli and Weiss’ deeper point of how everyone perceives everyday life differently.

Every work of the exhibition relates back to a bigger theme of asking questions, big and small. Rat and Bear ask many questions that show their naiveté, but the questions ultimately enable to them have bits of understanding and clarity.

The final piece on display is a dark room with the projection of questions ranging from, “Is indecisiveness proof of free will?” to “Could I be Japanese?” It ties the exhibition together by presenting the overarching theme of questioning—from the deeper, more introspective questions to the out-of-the-blue, more comical questions.

Either way, the works of Fischli and Weiss are hugely different from the Guggenheim’s most recent exhibitions. As a more lighthearted show, it may prompt doubt, but also spark curiosity—an effect fitting with the themes of the duo’s work.

“How to Work Better” will be on view until April 27, 2016, and the “How to Work Better” mural, which lists the ten steps to working better, will be found at the corner of Houston and Mott streets through May 1, 2016.

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